A Struggling Giant
It would be a beautiful sunny day on the water when two police officers would spot a large, dark shape. Approaching the large mass, they realized it was alive and clearly in distress and if they didn’t help…the creature would die.
You won’t believe this story of two selfless officers and their harrowing rescue.
The Beauty of the Ocean
One of the most amazing things about the ocean, besides its sheer beauty, is it’s large and thriving ecosystem. Host to a wide variety of creatures, some we know about and some that are still waiting to be discovered, the ocean is currently under a threat like no other. Pollution, hunting, and humanity have played a huge role in the ocean’s demise and if we aren’t careful these stunning ecosystems could one day be completely destroyed.
The Turtle Threat
Sea turtles are a great example of marine life that is being threatened by pollution. This is due to the fact their primary source of nutrition is jellyfish. Plastic bags in the ocean can look like a floundering jellyfish, which can be mistaken by the turtle for food. After being ingested, these bags can prove fatal due to creating a blockage in the digestive system.
The Problem with Fishing Equipment
Fishing equipment can also be fatal to sea life. Crab traps are one of the worst culprits. Designed to capture crabs, these cages rest on the ocean floor while rope attached to flotation devices bob on the surface to let fisherman know their location.
Unfortunately, these traps can cause problems.
Whales have been known to get caught in the lines of crab traps, which can result in them being unable to move. Due to the weight of the traps below, the whale eventually will die.
On February 23, 2016, two officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Brand Smith and Steve Mullen were patrolling the coast as they usually did, roughly two miles away from Hanna Park and Jacksonville Beach. It would be on this day they encountered something unlike they’d ever experienced before.
The Dark Shape
As the officers were continuing their patrol, they noticed a large dark shape out in the water. It appeared to be moving, but not very well. Intrigued, they drove their boat over to its location and were shocked by what they had found.
The large shape was actually a leatherback turtle, a species of sea turtle that has lived so long it can be traced back to the time of the dinosaurs. While most turtles are known for their large, hard shells, the leatherback turtle is known for its skin-covered shell. Pretty cool, right?
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the leatherback turtle has been classified as a vulnerable species. While many regions have their own classifications due to region-specific data, it has been confirmed that the leatherback turtle populations are dwindling and in some areas, they are on the verge of becoming endangered.
Struggling and Needing Help
According to the two officers, the turtle they found was in severe distress. “The sea turtle had become entangled in a crab trap,” they wrote. “The trap’s rope was looped around the sea turtle’s neck, and the buoy was still attached to the trap.”
Unable to Escape
Due to the line being tangled around the turtle, it couldn’t dive underwater and remained trapped at the surface. Suffering and losing its strength, the officers knew they had to act fast.
Capturing the Rescue
The officers decided to film their rescue attempt. Brand held the camera, while Steve reached out to assess the turtle’s condition. They knew the turtle would not be able to free itself on its own; therefore, it was up to them to save the poor creature.
Easier Said Than Done
Unfortunately, the officers soon realized their rescue was going to be more difficult than they had imagined. The rope was actually wrapped all the way around the turtle, making it a lot more complicated in terms of freeing the animal.
Fighting for Freedom
Holding onto the buoy, the officer allowed the turtle to make an effort to twist free. Using what was left of its strength, the turtle twisted and dove underneath the surface, hoping to make a break for it.
Unable to Break Free
Sadly, the turtle is unable to free itself on its own becoming more distressed. Holding onto the rope as tight as he can, Brand noticed a piece of cord that was wrapped around the turtle’s neck. He knew the turtle’s only chance was if he cut the rope, but he had to make sure he wouldn’t cut the creature by accident.
Thankfully, the officer is able to slice through the rope around the turtle’s neck without incident, freeing some of the lines. Realizing the man is trying to help, the turtle stops thrashing and actually becomes quite calm.
Locating a second knot near the turtle’s fin, the officer is able to quickly cut the chord, freeing the poor turtle. Realizing it can swim away, the turtle slaps the surface of the water with its fin before heading off.
Social Media Sensation
After the rescue, the officers posted it on social media and it was an instant viral hit, being shared over 21,000 times. On Facebook, the video has over TWO MILLION views. How crazy is that?
A Flood of Positive Comments
Many people commented on the video, thrilled that the officers had helped. “Thank you for saving this turtle, and other animals you have saved over the years. Animals are important as well as people, great job!” Another follower said, “I love stories like these, thank you for this positive, inspiring, motivational news, JSO!”
Across the Globe
The video would soon attract attention from people around the world. People were commenting from Germany! Despite being an endangered species, the leatherback turtle has allies around the world. We’re sure that turtle is thankful those two officers took the time to help.